The Vaults’ Pit stage, with its dark, murky cellar vibe, perfectly sets the scene for what is about to unfold there. A woman, blood-stained and chained to both walls of a bare stage, wakes up, and with a mischievous smile says, “funny story”.
The story of how she came to be there, which she then goes on to relay to an invisible man who seems to be keeping her prisoner, is hardly ever really funny, however, particularly for a play that calls itself a “feminist horror comedy”. Big Bad is definitely dark, though, and the audience is left to piece together the parts of Jodi Gray’s narrative with an increasing sense of unease.
Perhaps the script is at times a little too cryptic, which hinders an emotional investment in a character that isn’t very likeable to start with – for if Susi’s vengeful man-slaying actions are what make this piece feminist, this becomes a somewhat troubling definition.
More than once a thread of the story is left unfinished or unclear, and a little more clarity would benefit the show. Nonetheless, the story is undoubtedly fascinating, and its ambiguity also leads to interesting moments. The bareness of the stage makes the setting quite timeless, so when we discover halfway through the play that Susi was born in the same year as the London tube, the fact that her perpetrator and first victim was called ‘Jack’ suddenly gains significance, and gives the story a different dimension.
Arabella Gibbins’s performance is strong, and she carries the show well. She is clearly not one to mess with, and her voice carries through the room with authoritative power. It makes us wonder what is underneath this hard surface, and almost yearn for a moment of softness, but she never gives in.
The show’s weakest moments are its somewhat sloppy transitions or light changes; Gibbins could have easily performed the text in one sitting, without any added effects or black-outs, and captivated the audience even more. The rattling of her chains, though visually interesting, sometimes interferes with her speech, which is distracting. She is most powerful when delivering her speech directly and without added embellishments.
The content of the show, which deals with issues of abuse, sexuality and revenge, though set in a different time, sparks a comparison to more contemporary affairs, with the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements springing to mind.
Big Bad is a powerful, disturbing and intriguing one-woman show that invites questions about sanity, morality and femininity, and leaves a horrible knot in the stomach.
Big Bad played at The Vaults until the 18 March 2018
Photo: Jodi Gray